Reactions to the FTAA Summit
It was an education for some who were first-timers
By Jan Slakov
I read once that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. The Quebec Summit was, perhaps, just the teacher I was ready for.

On each of the three mornings I was there, I went up to the security fence around the part of old Quebec where the summit was held. The first day a man in army fatigues was there, probably facing a pretty monotonous day of standing there. I said to him in French, "You'll make good and sure not to let the criminals in there get out, eh?" He got the joke.

Later I tried the same line on a group of guys in uniform and one of them assured me, with a big grin, "c'est promis!" (It's a promise!)

By the second day I realized this was a useful role for me: creating dialogue, often with these guys in uniform, but also with others.

I was delighted when one RCMP officer wondered why people were so upset about free trade (really corporate globalization). It gave me a great chance to explain. The RCMP officer hadn't known about the MMT case. I gave it as an example of how governments were giving up their rights to act on behalf of the public interest. And no wonder, I explained, they get huge sums from corporations to fuel their political ambitions. Then they end up representing those corporate interests more than their electors. He said, though, that he was sure many of the others who were there protesting wouldn't have that much of an understanding about what they were upset about. I agreed he had a point but that there was nothing like a big event like this to help those of us who are trying to share our understanding with others.

Later that day was the big march. I was one of a group of seven Nova Scotians, representing many more people who had contributed equipment, money and more to enable us to be there. We went under the banner of "Enviro-Clare".

Carolyn Langdon (an executive member of the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace group) invited us to join the pagan group she was with called the Living River. They seemed to be trying to bring a healthy, nonviolent energy to the march, especially to points of conflict.

Later we learned that this Living River (about 20 people from all aver North America) included Starhawk! That was really an honour for me.

The group took time to centre themselves with chant songs and prayerful voicings. Some of it seemed a bit foreign to me, but I went along as best I could. I later tried to share what I had learned with other non-initiates.

It was fascinating to see how this group used ritual, including dancing and chanting, to reach consensus on where and when to move on. Despite the unwillingness of some people to be tear-gassed, the group did finally move up towards the fence and the "summit" (for the summit was held on top of a steep hill).

Eventually we found the group had headed into a small street which dead-ended into the fence. The fence was down here and in that break were many security guys behind a wall of riot gear.

Though I had not brought any protection against tear gas with me, I pressed up closer. I figured I had experience "connecting" with these security guys after my morning walks.

Then someone announced that a warning had gone out that they were going to shoot tear gas at us. Their guns were aimed. A call of "shame" went out and I joined in. One of the Living River women shushed me. The security guys didn't shoot. My heart was pounding but it was beginning to calm down. Eventually one of the Living River people instructed us to sit down.

By then I was so happy and relieved. I looked as best I could into the eyes of the couple of security guys I could see, waved happily and gave them a huge smile. We sat there quite a while. Some nut threw something, possibly a paint bomb, over us at the police. Many of us turned and shouted our outrage but a Living River woman shushed me again. I was beginning to see that I felt almost a sense of protectiveness towards these guys who had trusted us enough not to lash out with their gas.

While we were there the security guys started moving and it looked worrisome. Now I realize they were just "changing the guard".

Eventually one of the pagans voiced an intent to get up and leave and the Living River group slowly moved out (and I well understand now, how important it is to move slowly in situations like this). I moved the other way, up to the security guys to thank them.

I was really tired and started heading back down that dead end. But very slowly. People were singing the same chant the pagans had been singing: "Gardez, gardez, garde la vision pour la naissance" -- "Hold on, hold on, hold the vision until it's born". One woman was singing "gone" instad of "born" and was grateful for a correction. People photographed the Alice Walker poem I had on my front placard:

We Alone
We alone can influence the price of gold
By not caring if it falls or rises
In the market place.
Wherever there is gold,
There is a chain, you know.
And if your chain is gold,
So much the worse for you.
Feathers, shells and sea-shaped stones
Are all as rare.
This could be our revolution -
To love what's plentiful
As much as what is scarce!

It was quite a while before we left. The Living River group was dancing, I think celebrating, in the main street just below, and new people were coming up into that dark dead end to be in what had become almost a cathedral of peace.

I have since talked to many others and realize we were extremely lucky; for many completely non-violent protesters were tear-gased. Some in our group, including a woman in her 60s, had all exits blocked and were gassed. The youngest in the group, an 18-year-old asthmatic, grabbed the hands of the other two and headed down an embankment, sliding on their backsides.

In retrospect

The lessons from the Quebec Summit continue. The day after returning home, I heard the CBC's Bob Carty speak of how the movement seemed to be maturing and was now able to articulate how democracy and globalization were related. He spoke also of how the movement seemed to need more unity.

That may be true. I respect and have befriended many who find peaceful protest almost pointless. However, my Quebec experience only reinforces my previous commitment to non-violence.

I hope the next step will link democracy, globalization and militarization.

Several major groups -- including the Global Resource Action Center on the Environment; Veterans Against Nuclear Arms; End the Arms Race; the Council of Canadians; the Canadian Labour Congress; the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace -- are organizing a teach-in. It will coincide with a NATO meeting, scheduled for Ottawa on Oct. 5. It is entitled: The Corporate Security State -- a citzen's teach-in on how western militarism secures global corporate rule.

For more information, contact Peter Coombes at End the Arms Race by e-mailing info@peacewire.org or phoning 604-687-3223.

Jan Slakov is a mother/activist/gardener/teacher/translator living in southwestern Nova Scotia. She works with several groups, including Enviro-Care of which she is president. She welcomes your comments, on this or other themes, at Box 35, Weymouth, NS B0W 3T0; by phone to 902-837-4980; or by e-mail to jslakov@tartannet.ns.ca